Archived content from Nemesis To Go Issue 12.
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|Front page from issue 12.|
Interviews from issue 12 - Cold In Berlin, Deathline, and Neurotic Mass Movement.
Click the thumbnails to go to the interview pages.
Live reviews from issue 12:
CD/Vinyl/Download reviews from issue 12:
Cold In Berlin
And Yet (Candlelight)
In which high-tension post-punkers Cold In Berlin turn up the guitars (not that they were turned down before, you understand) and get their apocalypse on. This album isn't quite your actual apocalyptic metal, but it's closer than you'd think.
There, I bet that stopped you in your tracks. Apocalyptic metal? That's a bit of a leap for a band that hitherto has epitomised the stark new waviness of twenty-first century post-punk. That element of Cold In Berlin's art is still in the mix, but the band now present an implacably nihilistic face to the world, soundtracked by a towering mass of densely-packed, overdriven guitars and a vocal that shrieks into the very face of doom. The drum sound is John Bonham-big, the production on the large side of huge. This is a bigger, darker, heavier, louder and altogether more frightening incarnation of Cold In Berlin. They always did make a hefty racket, but now they're unequivocally at home to The Rock.
So, strap yourself in for 'Take Control', a mountainous angst-anthem with a snare drum that sounds like the slamming of the doors of Valhalla - THOK!! 'The Witch' is the kind of extravagant rock colossus that you could almost imagine Robert Plant singing. As it is, vocalist My does a pretty good Percy. Look, two Led Zep references already - if you'd told me this time last year that I'd be drawing such comparisons in a Cold In Berlin review I would've laughed in your face.
'Brick By Brick' is a 100mph barnstormer soaked in the kind of distortion that makes me think of overheated valve amps being pushed beyond the limit, while 'The Visionary' sees Cold In Berlin go all apocalypto-pastoral with a folk-rock marching song. 'Down in the field where the angels roam,' sings My, describing a scene that's just begging to be turned into an airbrushed painting on a fringed leather jacket. Hey, Purson - you've got competition.
'Love Is Shame' has a riff that takes no prisoners (curiously, it reminds me of Iggy Pop's 'Pumping For Jill' - go on, you DJs, try a mash-up) and a guitar solo that sounds like something you'd find on a Nazareth album, fer fux sake. The closest points to Cold In Berlin's previous post-punkery are 'The Lie' - brusque and staccato, my guess is that it's the oldest song here - and the single 'And The Darkness Bangs'. That one's surely a cousin (just how distant, you decide) to the Banshees' 'Sin In My Heart'. It's a painless way in to the new Cold In Berlin if all this talk of hoary old rock influences has got you worried.
Yes, we're a world away from the minimal cool of new wave, but somehow Cold In Berlin make their new, heavy-armour incarnation work, while retaining all their identity. This is a very different album to the band's first release, but it still couldn't be anyone but Cold In Berlin.
Public Image Limited
This Is Pil (Pil Official)
The band are tight, the grooves are suitably monsterous, John Lydon's vocals are a melodramatic cod-opera blast - yes, this much-vaunted comback after a lengthy hiatus sees the Pil machine on fine form. But here's the thing. Incongruously, this album functions (whether by accident or design, it's hard to tell) as a virtual compilation, containing as it does musical references to Pil's multifarious previous incarnations.
The opener, a rumbling almost-instrumental upon which Lydon hollers "Thiiiis is Piiiil!" in a foghorn wail, recalls 'The Order Of Death', on which a similarly minimal lyric was stretched over a sepulchral groove. If that doesn't give you a dose of deja entendu, try 'Deeper Water' on which a thunderous, circling bassline and clanging, needling guitar drops a hint of Metal Box, the legendary 1979 album on which Pil fused dub, krautrock, and their own singular post-punk vision to create music that, even now, sets the benchmark for left-field rock.
'Terra Gate' comes barrelling in like something off 'First Issue'. Lu Edmonds, a one-man wall of guitar, gives a virtual cap-doff to Keith Levene, while Scott Firth, on bass, does a worthy Wobble. If you can get your head round the puzzle of Pil being their own influence, these tunes work - although, 30-odd years on from the original excursion, 'Deeper Water' does rather underline the fact that Metal Box is the kind of trick you can only pull off once.
Elsewhere, the dubby romp of 'Lollipop Opera' sees Pil getting silly - and producing an unexpectedly effective dub-dance track in the process. Reference point: 'Fodderstompf', but I bet you were ahead of me on that one. The later incarnations of Pil, when the band essentially became an alternative AOR act, are rather underwhelmingly acknowledged on 'Reggie Song' and 'Fool' - both smoothly competent alternorock cruisers that remind me why I stopped buying Pil albums in the late 80s. 'One Drop' stands out as an incongrously jaunty romp, on which Lydon stridently asserts his credentials as a working-class Londoner. It's a piece of lightweight fun, although Lydon's insistence on emphasising his north London roots (which he also refers to, several times over, in other lyrics here) sounds uncomfortably like a case of protesting too much from a man who's lived in the USA for what must be over half his life now.
So, this is Pil being Pil, and for all the disconcertingly self-referential elements of the new material, they make a better fist of it than cynics might expect. If the band don't push the envelope overmuch here, at least they are unequivocally inside their own envelope. Is this Pil? Oh, yeah. It's them all right.
Maria & The Mirrors
Gemini Enjoy My Life (Exotic Pylon)
Two slices of Brownian noise-disco on a 12" slab-o-vinyl from London's finest (and, quite possibly, only) practitioners of post-industrial tribalism. 'Gemini Enjoy My Life' is a rush of drums and a to-and-fro squall of electronics; a bottom end pumping like overdriven Ultraviolence and vocals that sound the Cocteau Twins being fed into a food mixer at 78 rpm.
It's brilliant, obviously - and, notwithstanding my Brownian noise comment above, not at all a random cacophony. This stuff is as tightly stuctured as any prog-rock opera. Maria And The Mirrors know exactly what they're doing, although if you squirt this music into your brain loudly enough via headphones you might not. Flip this crisp biscuit over and get a load of the B-side track, 'Mudchute' - a glitch-dub symphony that sounds like Cabaret Voltaire's 'Nag Nag Nag' produced by King Tubby. All this and - bonus! - the best record sleeve ever.
|Maria And the Mirrors perform 'Gemini Enjoy My Life'. This is what the inside of their heads looks like.|
Dark Days White Nights (Trisol)
Following up the electro-punkish spikiness of her previous album, the guitars 'n' beatz wrestling match that was People's Temple, Tying Tiffany smooths things down a bit here. The guitars are still in the room, but this time round they've been served with a restraining order: they hang back, lurking amid a bed of opulent electronics and judiciously-deployed rhythm. There's a trancey thing going on here - the pulse is still the backbone of everything, and the choruses surge mightily when they've a mind to. But the overall effect is hypnotic, rather than aggressive. The key dance move this time round is a trancey sway, rather than a full-on pogo or a noo-wave disco bop.
Having said all that, Dark Days, White Nights is not an easy-listening affair. 'New Colony' has a tribal feel, the thump of the kick drum pushing the rhythm along. 'She Never Dies' gives it a bit of welly, with some Ladytron-esque distort-o-electronix and a beat that surges mightily in the direction of the dance floor. 'Universe' also features a burst of stormy beatery, suddenly breaking out from a tropical tide of synths.Taking things down again, 'Unleashed' is cinematic and almost-orchestral, with a vocal that tip-toes delicately through the waft and swoon - the sound of Tying Tiffany chilling out.
If you're new to Tying Tiffany, this album probably isn't the best point to dip in for a first listen. It's a considered sidestep from the instant energy of her older stuff, and it doesn't have the kind of immediacy that reaches out and grabs the listener. But if you want to hear her trying something different, step right up.
Fight Like A Girl (Asylum Emporium)
"I'll get my revenge on the world," Emilie Autumn assures us over the boom-clatter glich-techno pulse of the title track, "Or at least forty-nine percent of the people in it." Better start running, gentlemen. I think she means it.
This, Emilie Autumn's fifth album (or third, or sixth, or umpteenth, depending on how you count compilations, EPs, and what-not) is the most fully-realised distillation of her idiosyncratic art so far. It's certainly the most comprehensive telling of her tale, the inside story of the Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls. This is effectively the original cast recording (the original cast being Emilie herself, who plays all the parts) of the Asylum stage show...which hasn't actually been performed yet, although many of the songs here will be familiar from the rock circuit. But now, Emilie Autumn takes a decisive step into the world of footlights and greasepaint.
Imagine if Gilbert and Sullivan came up with a comic opera set in Bedlam. That's about the closest comparison it's possible to draw, and even that's not very close. Not least because Emilie's opera gets pretty bleak at times, for it's based - just how loosely, only she knows for sure - on a true story; but also because her freaked electronics have more in common with the more outré excursions of The Aphex Twin than anything conventionally operatic.
And, despite the efforts of Emilie's industry partners to market her to the metal scene, there's a distinct absence of anything related to rock 'n' roll. Bizarrely, the campaign to attract the metalheads continues: Google up reviews of this album, and count how many are on metal websites. Betcha none of them mention Gilbert and Sullivan or The Aphex Twin.
Emilie's progress through the twilight world of the Asylum is soundtracked by phat techno squelchery, as on 'Time For Tea' - in which assorted ghastliness is visited upon her enemies - and swooning, cinematic strings, deployed to great effect on 'Four O'Clock', a new, instrumental version of the traditional show-opener. 'Take The Pill' is a small symphony in itself, escalating as it does from ambient glitch to full-throttle gabba, Emilie's vocal spitting rusty nails.
In complete contrast, 'Girls! Girls! Girls!, is a darkly humourous music-hall knees-up, in which the Asylum inmates are paraded for the entertainment of passers-by. Not quite the fancy it might seem, for such things did once happen. Emilie has a creditable go at Laaahhndon accents here, by the way. I don't think she's in any danger of getting a part on Eastenders, but she makes a more convincing mockney than Nigel Kennedy.
The show continues - no intervals for ice cream - through the apocalyptic 'If I Burn', the clanking and grinding of 'Scavenger', and the heady rush of 'The Key', with Emilie's Cubase orchestra rumbling tensely behind her frantic vocal. It's edge of the seat stuff as the inmates overpower the guards, and rats dine upon the evil doctor.
Even though the gates are finally open, the inmates never actually leave. I was hoping that Emilie would ride triumphantly into the sunrise, like Titus escaping Gormenghast. Not so: the show closes with the inmates in charge of the asylum, but in some ways still imprisoned. They march into an uncertain future to the strings and drums of 'One Foot In Front Of The Other'. It's a brave move to wrap the show without the traditional happy ending, but then Fight Like A Girl is a brave move altogether.
While Emilie Autumn's art might be a little obscure to anyone coming upon her for the first time (it'll be utterly incomprehensible to anyone expecting a rock album), this is a genuine achievement in its breadth of vision and confident execution - all the more so because it's essentially a DIY effort. The next stage - where the show goes on stage - will be different, and perforce a lot less DIY. But I hope it works. Emilie's Asylum is just begging to be given a full scale theatrical production, orchestra in the pit, all the trimmings. And Tim Burton to direct the movie.
Screws Get Loose (Oh Wow Dang)
As Cliff Richard sang in his 1958 hit 'Move It', "Well, ballet and calypso have got nothing on/Real country music that just drives along". I think we can all sign up to that sentiment, can't we? Certainly, Those Darlins wouldn't disagree.
Fresh outta Tennesse - which, of course, gives them impeccable country credentials - all cowboy boots and thousand yard stares, Those Darlins take country by the scruff of its red neck and administer a hefty injection of punk juice, and in doing so create a feisty rough and tumble of country moves, sixties garage-pop and 'nuff attitude.
'Screws Get Loose' itself is a rollicking anthem to everyday insanity. Jessi Darlin lets loose a splendid foghorn wail of a vocal, like a barndance Poly Styrene, while the band keep it tight and motorin'. 'Be My Bro' is an anthem to boy/girl friendship that threatens to become something more - "I just wanna run and play in the dirt with you/You just wanna stick it in," sings Jessi in a tone of existential disappointment, while over on the drums Linwood Darlin (Those Darlins are all Darlins) gives it a good old tub-thumpin' flourish.
'Mystic Mind' sees the band coming over all Velvet Underground on a garage-psychedelia ballad. Reckon they musta found some of those funny mushrooms growin' out back o' granpappy's barn. 'Boy' is perhaps the most straight-up pop number here, a lilting confection that could almost be the Poni-Tails, and proof - if we needed it - that Those Darlins are nothing if not keen students of valve-powered vintage sound.
Yeah, it's all kinda retro - Those Darlins could be country music's answer to The Raveonettes, in a way - but the band display a no-shit attitude that's entirely of the here and now. Me, I'm with Sir Cliff on this one.
By the way, just in case there's still a small doubt lingering in your mind as to whether you should sign up as a Those Darlins fan, let me point out one last thing. Their label is called Oh Wow Dang Records. Now tell me you don't love 'em.
The Beehive EP (Self release)
London's latest practitioners of post-punk art 'n' angularity give us five tracks of seething angst and heavily-reverbed guitar-shimmer. Well, make that four tracks of seething angst and heavily-reverbed guitar-shimmer, because track five, cunningly entitled 'Pause For Applause' proves to be just that - fifteen seconds of silence, the mp3 of which is now taking up 808 kilobytes of space on my hard drive. Oh, those wacky post-punks and their conceptual humour.
So let's lend an ear to the tunes which actually employ soundwaves. 'The Beehive' itself is all mannered foreboding and carefully enunciated melodrama - "She walks in footprints melted from snow", indeed. But that's part and parcel of the Partly Faithful's art: if you can't unleash your inner Peter Murphy in the post-punk zone, where can you do so?
Without wishing to beat the band about the head with spurious Bauhaus comparisons, 'Needles' probably counts as the Partly Faithful's 'Dark Entries', in that it's full of bristling tension and storm-surge guitar, and a vocal that positively drips with disdain as it dissects the political landscape - something Bauhaus never did, of course. In this the Partly Faithful are very twenty-first century. They know that there's a time to stop being oblique and ambiguous and move in for the kill, and that time, kids, is now.
'The Worm Within' is a sinister waltz that creeps into view like a rumour, before a flurry of skidding, reverbed noise arrives to start the party. 'So Happy' is an unexpectedly straitghtforward nearly-ballad which, with its keening Weltschmerz, could almost - almost! - be Keane. Dangerous territory there. I hope the band pull back from that particular brink. But the Partly Faithful have a sure touch with tension and resolution, and a certain ragged drama that ensures their spiky anthems always draw blood.
She Makes War
Little Battles (Self release)
A blend of quietly assertive alternorock and introspective avant-folk here. Laura Kidd, who is She Makes War, positions herself somewhere between Throwing Muses and Sandy Denny - and I bet that's the first time you've seen those two artists mentioned in the same sentence. But Little Battles joins those rather disparate dots with a blend of understated rock numbers - like 'Minefields', all rumbling bass and punchy but controlled drums - and plangent, airy folk songs full of precisely plucked guitars and multi-tracked choral vocals, like 'Blue', where the vocal floats serenely over an engaging twingle-twangle.
The overall effect is not so much war as a kind of after-the-battle chill out around the campfire. The prevailing mood is refective, whimsical, punctuated by occasional controlled-conditions bursts of rock 'n' roll volume, which are soon reined in as folkie delicacy returns.
On 'Delete' (which strangely reminds me of Jah Wobble's ode to non-existence, 'To Erase'), Laura contemplates the gentle art of stopping and starting again over a multi-tracked choir of her own voice - and you'd better get used to that multi-tracked choir, because it's all over this album, either employed as an acapella bed for the lead vocal, or layered in as backing vocals. Song after song reclines on a cushion of ooohs and aaaahhs. 'In This Boat' eases in, a gentle instrumental tumble until the song picks up the pace, some chunky guitar comes in, and the backing vocals suddenly let loose a 'Hooo-ohhh-aaah!' - and that's the point at which I decide that you can have too much of a good thing. I like this album's sense of reflective contemplation, but when it all starts sounding like a folk-rock revival of the Flying Pickets, that's where I leave the battlefield.
I Was A Teenage Tranny ( STP)
Incoming: eleven slabs of Ramones-esque punker-rockers, brash and snotty and aimed straight at your head. And, as you might guess from the album title, there's a certain knockabout humour at work, too - let's face it, anyone who can sing "My G-string makes my balls feel tight" as irrepressible vocalist Colleen Caffeine does on the title track, isn't afraid to play it for a bawdy laugh. Elsewhere, 'Thimble Tits' and 'Oprah's Sweet Tampon' keep things suitably down and dirty. And, naturally, the guitar-thunder never gives up.
But just when you've got Choking Susan marked down as a good-time bunch, in it for the grins, they suddenly side-step into the serious zone. 'Dementia' might sound like an entertaining list of bonkers freak-outs at first listen, but as Colleen digs ever-deeper into her bucket of madness the song takes on a rather foreboding mood until, eventually, it becomes downright sinister. For some reason, the most affecting line is "They'll never know where I hide my food".
Likewise 'Victim Energy', in which the band racks up an escalating storm of high tension guitar as Colleen tells the story of a night on the town that goes horribly wrong. She beats herself up over her short skirt, makeup, sexy walk, and concludes "I was asking for it/It was all my fault". It's an uncomfortable listen, especially as there are plenty of people (not least in the Republican party right now, it seems) who'd say this is exactly how women should feel. That's Choking Susan for you - they'll thwap you upside your head with their trash and noise, but they'll get inside your brain, too.
Viki Vortex & The Cumshots
My Plastic Friend EP (21 Dots)
I'm pleased to find that Viki Vortex And The Cumshots are as unrestrained and as lo-fi as ever on this new EP - not that there was ever any doubt about that. This is one band that's never likely to do a Jazz Odyssey.
Four tracks here - four tracks that put the punk rock pedal to the metal with a no-shit zest that'll make you jump around your room, knocking things off the shelves and spilling tea down your shirt. Although that could be just me, mind. Viki Vortex gives it a sardonic snarl on the vocal, while the bass/guitar/drums brew seethes and churns. The (almost) title track, 'Plastic Fantastic', is a classic punk rock put-down, a hapless boyfriend sent packing with some home truths ringing in his ears. The Cumshots are nothing if not a garage band, so their cover of 'Big Mouth', originally by Californian garage merchants The Muffs, fits neatly among their own rackets. Fine stuff if you feel the urge to strip it down and crank it up.
Viva Le Pink
London Crawlin' EP (Diablo)
You might recognise Missy Le Pink, feisty frontwoman of London's newest rockabilly contenders. She was formerly known as Kiria, purveyor of pink punk with plenty of attitude. Well, the attitude is intact (and so is the colour scheme), but this project taps into a time when rock 'n' roll itself was new and generally regarded as rather dangerous.
Practitioners of twenty-first century rockabilly can't hope to recapture that original edge, of course. Society is in no danger of being overrun with bequiffed delinquents, and perhaps it never really was. These days, it's all about whipping up a stylin' good time, and Viva Le Pink certainly do that.
Three tunes here: the pumping, jumping romp of 'Hell Kitty', all thumpa-thumpa double bass, guitar that jangles like a good 'un, and Missy Le Pink's devil-kitten vocal. Some nifty sax squalls - courtesy of Terry Edwards, no less - splurge over the song like splattered paint. 'Queen O' Jack' is a boom-chucka country number that Johnny Cash would've been proud of - up to and including the lyric, in which Missy defiantly defends her wrong-side-of-the-tracks territory. Wally Willete's 1959 ode to booze-induced wildlife, 'Pink Elephants' wraps things up, and it's a sassy romp through a classic stomper. Heads up, hep cats. There's a new kitten in town.
Viva Le Pink: Facebook
Electric Eyes EP (Self release)
Stop me if you've heard this before - and, let's face it, we've all heard this before - but Terminal Gods steal the Sisters Of Mercy's best moves with a shameless chutzpah that reminds us of a time when Andrew Eldritch was young, spunky, and still releasing records. 'Electric Eyes', the lead track on this 7", sounds like 'Alice' after a course of performance-enhancing drugs. It's a rush of extravagant gothic rock, nailed to a headlong drum machine clatter, the guitars ganging up like bullies in the school playground, until an honest-to-goodness punch-the-air chorus arrives to shove the whole thing to a climax.
'God Child' has a touch of the Jesus And Mary Chains about it - another band that harnessed the drum machine to the cause of rock 'n' roll - although as soon as the vocal arrives in a flurry of melodrama Terminal Gods' primary source suddenly becomes obvious. 'Listen to the Gods now!' hollers the vocal, as the drum machine performs the kind of speedfreak pirouettes that no human drummer could replicate.
Track three, 'Red Light Love' doesn't deviate from the formula - the first thing you learn about Terminal Gods is that they never deviate from the formula - and the vocal references to a 'long black car' and 'shoot to kill' could have been ripped directly from Andrew Eldritch's book of lyrics. But the band's brash audaciousness carries them through. Which is Terminal Gods' saving grace and secret superpower, I suppose. Brass-necked rock 'n' roll kleptomaniacs they may be, but they probably mean it more than Eldritch does these days.
Apnea (Deadly People)
The proverbial difficult second album for O. Chidren - but then, perhaps not. The band sound entirely confident on this collection of rich, sonorous, gothic rockers. Which, I hasten to add, does not mean O. Children have taken the conventional goth scene route of rehashing the Sisters and/or Nephilim and/or Mission (Terminal Gods, take note). O. Children might have arrived at a style that dovetails neatly with the orotund dramatics that have become the signature sound of the schwarze szene, but they've followed their own route to get here. They're effectively honorary goths. A dubious honour these days, maybe, but the band wear it well.
The key element of the O. Children sound is Tobi O'Kandi's voice, a grand, rolling, billowing cloud of sonic warmth. The vocals throughout this album flow like a smooth, deep river: unruffled by any passing breeze, untroubled by the slightest ripple. The band brew up a lush backing of chiming guitars and resounding bass - it's fluid and polished and sleek, rock music buffed to a glassy shine by a T-cut production that has ruthlessly removed all impurities.
And, in the end, that's the sticking point for me: I'm waiting for some texture to arrive, some hint at the rough edges that make rock music interesting. But it's wall-to-wall unruffled proficiency - even the band's big stompo-disco number, 'PT Cruiser', which is downright thunderous live, sounds curiously emasculated here, surrounded as it is by so much preternatural smoothness. In the end, Apnea does not seem by any means a difficult second album. On the contrary, listening to O. Children cruise through the songs with such serene confidence, it sounds just a bit too easy.
The Deadfly Ensemble
Hammer, Anvil And Stirrups
Arch, surrealist art-folk from ex-Cinema Stranger Lucas Lanthier and his merry band of troubadours. This 7" certainly shifts us a world away from the squalling Virgin Prunes-isms that made Cinema Strange such a hit with the revived deathrock scene of the last decade. Cinema Strange progressively mutated into a perfomance-art troupe of entertaining peculiarity over the years, but always remained - however tangentally - a rock band.
The Deadfly Ensemble, however, veer away from anything resembling rock 'n' roll (although over at Discogs they're filed under 'Goth Rock' - definitely a case of the missing memo there, I think). Instead, they go zig-zagging through a landscape half Edward Lear, half Edward Gorey. 'Hammer, Anvil And Stirrups' sees the band tripping jauntily through a middle-eastern vaudeville curiosity, like a Victorian cabaret band unexpectedly dropped into the middle of the old bazaar in Cairo, but determined to make the best of it. Lucas Lanthier enunciates the lyric in the voice of a startled Noel Coward - a Hilaire Belloc-esque tale of a gentleman amateur surgeon at work.
Over on the B-side, we hear 'John Fall Apart John', a wistful ballad concerning an inconclusive fellow, sung to some nicely restrained schanging guitar and a keening cello. The songs are illustrated by some rather lovely watercolours, included on a postcard in the package...which somewhat makes up for the fact that this slice of vinyl is a bloody terrible pressing.
Fangs On Fur
Artifice Shank (Collapsible Personalities)
Let's stay in the 7" vinyl zone for this two-tracker from tribal-glam art-punks Fangs On Fur, and, crumbs, it's a punker corker. 'Artifice Shank' is a shrieking wall of guitar backed up by some heavy-artillery bass 'n' drums, the whole thing nailed to a hip-twitching rhythm fit to dislocate your joints. Over this heady tumult, F-Girl, Fangs On Fur's conceptually-named singer, bawls a freaked-out vocal about - well, I have no idea. But she does seem very cross about something, as John Peel would say. A glorious post-punk rush.
On the B-side, 'Lay Me Down' is a slo-mo skank, the guitar ringing out from a cloud of reverb, the vocals a psychedelic croon. This is Fangs On Fur tapping into their west coast chill-out vibe - hey, they come from California, it's allowed. Two very different sides of a band that's so far practically unknown in the UK, which is absurd, really. They'd go down a treat with the London post-punk set. Bizarrely, Fangs On Fur seem to be exclusively marketed to the goth scene. That might get 'em an audience in Germany, where they can tap into deathrock, but it's a strategy that has distinct limitations elsewhere. Still, never mind the marketing, let's just feel the noise.
VVV EP (Popular)
I'm a great fan of vinyl, but it has to be said there are some woefully poor pressings around these days. This four-track 12" from London's art-pop ensemble Vuvuvultures comes complete with a frying-eggs crackle in the background that reminds me of exactly what I like about CDs.
But then, the frying-eggs crackle fits in curiously well with the first track here - the sputtering, staccato, jumpy-and-jerky rhythm of 'Ctrl alt Mexicans'. It's as stop-and-go as Devo: a sinster growl of bass underpins a vocal that climbs with unruffled grace to the heights of a chorus. Track two, 'Safe Skin', keeps the rhythm abrupt and uncluttered. The bass sets up a bad-mood rumble, the guitar pokes and prods, but when the chorus arrives it's such a gloriously swaying anthemic thing that you're almost too busy punching the air to notice that Vuvuvultures have come up with a great off-kilter pop song.
Over on the B side, 'Pills Week' is probably Vuvuvultures at their most accessible, in that it's a broad sweep of energetic, fizzing powerpop, built on some rather nifty Jean-Jaques Burnel bass. Vuvuvultures always keep the bass bold and gritty. If it wasn't for the sudden appearance of a swear word this one might've been the band's chart smasheroonie, if indeed it's possible to have a smasheroonie in today's mostly irrelevant charts. Last track, 'I'll Cut You', is slo-mo and sinister, with a production that conceals some surprising detail amid its boom and stomp. There's no credit on the sleeve, but someone in Vuvuvultures does a pretty decent human beat box. Weird when they want to be (which, on this evidence, is most of the time), Vuvuvultures are the very model of a modern pop group.
Mother Knows Best / Big Love (What's Your Rupture?)
Two 7" singles here from Throwing Up, and with a name like that it's a fair bet things are going to get messy. Sure enough, 'Mother Knows Best' is a rollicking blast of lo-fi DIY pop-punk, entirely free of frills and fancies, but engaging in its riffy minimalism. On t'other side, 'Medicine' repeats the trick - the guitar does the pogo, the vocal is an offhand, sardonic wail. In a way, I hesitate to use the term 'pop-punk' because these days that immediately makes everyone think of Blink-182 and the like, and I don't think we want to go there. Fortunately, Throwing Up are a much realer deal.
The second 7" in the Throwing Up pile squeezes two tracks on one side, leaving the other side as a smooth expanse of virgin vinyl, which may be an art concept, or maybe it's just cheaper to press a disc that way. But it's not much of a squeeze, because the two sixties-flavoued garage-ish tunes 'Big Love' and "Red Ribbon' barely last two minutes each - although the band still manages to fit in a guitar solo on 'Red Ribbon'. Throwing Up don't deal in excess baggage. Their songs are compact bursts of rock 'n' roll in the raw, and sometimes that's all you need.
Dana Jade (Priestess)
No vinyl here: this album is download-only. But you might want to grab it if you're up for some tight but loose, spiky but glam, dark around the edges, unrepentantly live sounding post-punky rock that has some unexpected influences lurking among the clang and clatter.
In musical terms, Dana Jade could be PJ Harvey's exotic cousin (she's from Trinidad via New York: let's face it, that's a bit more exotic than Dorset). Maybe there's a touch of Sonic Youth in the ring of the guitar, too - but in a way, this is a very London album. It feels like a distillation of big city tension, it's got the no-shit strut of London streets, and just when you think you've got to know it, you'll find something unexpected lurking around a familiar corner.
'Eyes Like Cinder' is spacious and wide-screen, the guitar a forest of needles picking away, with Dana Jade doing a sultry vocal strut over the rhythm. 'Murky Tears' is a slo-mo smooch of a song, all brushed drums and atmosphere, and here Dana sounds as earthy as Ertha Kitt - complete with a touch of sultry vibrato. 'The End Of The Line' racks up tension with a guitar riff like an elbow in the ribs, and a vocal that pushes, pushes, pushes at the listener. Some nifty, rough-and-tumble drums here, too, rattled off with a deceptively casual flair by Ian McKenzie.
'Little Sister' rattles along, driven by its sparse, clutter-free rhythm guitar - but just when you think you've got the measure of the song it deconstructs into a mellow, dubby break, before picking up its skirts and running off as if nothing had happened. Now that's a very London thing to do, to drop a dollop of dub into the middle of a rock song. And then there's 'She Or I Go', with its curiously ambiguous lyric - is Dana Jade calling time on a ménage à trois, or looking in the mirror and calling herself out? I can tell you this: it's a full-throttle rev-up with a big chant-along chorus, and here Dana suddenly sounds very Laaaahhndon. Gritty, unadorned, and compelling: this album sounds like the city.
|Dana Jade performs 'Little Sister'.
One of the sisters in this video is Laura Kidd, aka She Makes War, who we met above. You see, it all fits.
What's unusual about this album? That's a bit of a silly question, I suppose. It's an album by Nina Hagen. That, in itself, guarantees a certain amount of, shall we say, unusuality. Nope, the thing that sets this album apart from everything else on this page is that it's the only one on a major label. Which isn't necessarily saying much. While Polydor might still be a relatively big name in the music biz, this is a Deutschland-only release. Being freunde mit den großen Jungen doesn't get you all that far these days, evidently.
Then again, maybe Nina's industry partners have concentrated on home territory because this is a very German album. Aside from the occasional interjection of English, all the lyrics (and there are a lot of them: this is also a very wordy album) are in German. Many of those words are translated, if not actually written, by Nina herself. Because although this is an album of cover versions, fans of Nina's previous work will know she doesn't so much cover songs as asssimilate them.
Any album that starts with a brace of Brecht - 'Bitten der Kinder' and 'An Meine Landsleute' - has certainly nailed its colours to the mast. But if you were expecting the traditional bierkeller sway, hang on to your hat. Nina's in full-throttle punk rock diva mode here, giving old Bertholt a good seeing-to while her band, more pub rock than punk rock but still a lively bunch, kick it around. Christian rocker Larry Norman's 'Why Should The Devil Have all The Best Music?' comes up next, in a German translation by Nina, with the band channelling Doctor Feelgood. It says much for Nina Hagen's impregnable punk rock credentials that she can go all God-bothering on us and still retain her rumbustious, goofball cool.
But she's on fine form here: Seal's 80s electro-smoocher 'Killer' is almost unrecognisable beneath Nina's throaty growl and the band's robust workout. 'None Of Us Are Free' - originally a hit for Ray Charles - gets an almost Steely Dan-style makeover, although the late-night jazz-rock feel is sharply counterpointed by Nina's knife-edged vocal. Right at the end, there's an (unbilled) version of Woody Guthrie's 'This Train Bound For Glory', with Nina-esque adjustments. As far as I know, Woody never specified that his train didn't carry any "Freaky-deaky homophobic fruitcakes". I'm sure he'd appreciate the sentiment, though. Yes, Nina Hagen is still entirely her inimitable, idiosyncratic self. In a world going both bad and bland, we can thank any passing deity for that.
The World Is Getting Colder (Fabrika)
The world is also getting more minimal. Or, at least, it will if Lebanon Hanover have anything to do with it. This band does not believe in excess baggage. Their sound is as meticulously uncluttered as an IKEA kitchen. Every drum machine beat, every bass-string thump, every pluck of a guitar string on this album has an acre of empty space around it. Every vocal - whether from bassist William Maybelline or guitarist Laurissa Iceglass - stands out as starkly as a house on a hilltop.
The result is music that has a glacial, detached, otherworldliness about it. It's as if Lebanon Hanover took a long, cool look at the world outside their frost-streaked window and decided that they'd rather not have anything to do with that, thank you very much. 'Die World' - and there's a deadpan pun if ever I saw one - is so unremitting in its starkness that it makes Joy Division sound like Queen. 'Ice Cave' (of course Lebanon Hanover have a song called 'Ice Cave') is all broad sweeps and detail. You can even hear the plink of water drips falling from the roof.
But it's not all musical permafrost. Under the tundra, a certain humour lurks. 'Totally Tot', with its DAF-on-downers synth-pulse, is an exercise in mannered camp. 'Sunderland' - where Lebanon Hanover are based - pulls off the trick of making an English industrial town sound strangely exotic (Serge Gainsbourg managed it, too - now there's a strange bedfellow). 'Die World II' veers so close to a certain Bauhaus classic that I fully expect Lebanon Hanover to be haunted by the ghost of Bela Lugosi. Compelling in its frosty abstraction, The World Is Getting Colder certainly lives up to its low-temp title. But there's a wry smile amid the snowdrifts.